By Syed Ahsaan Rizvi (MEMP ’14) and Margaret Kuleshova (MEMP ’14)
One year ago, Abdul applied for the AT&T Business Sales Leadership Development Program (BSLDP) in technical sales through Duke’s E-Recruiting. A short while after, he received a call for an interview. The interview, consisting of behavioral questions, lasted 30 minutes and was conducted by the human resources (HR) department. On the same day, he had a second interview with HR, more detailed this time, regarding personality traits. No technical questions were asked. Abdul then had to deliver a presentation and recommendation on the third interview based on a case which he had four days to analyze. The fourth interview was a casual conversation between him and a line manager. At last, the fifth and final interview brought him back to HR, after which he soon got his job offer.
Abdul, a MEMP December 2012 graduate, joined AT&T in March of 2013, and now works as a Data Network Consultant. During his time at Duke, he served as the Director of the Student Recruiting Committee (SRC) on the MEMP Product Development Committee. Before coming to Duke, he worked for a year as the Director of Business Development in GSM Nation LLC, New Haven. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electric engineering from a premier technology institution in Pakistan and had comprehensive internship experiences in international tech companies, including Siemens and Nokia.
Abdul’s main role now involves consulting customers on solutions, providing technical support in product demonstration, and supporting the sales team in responding to network and service related client queries. Today, he has an interview with the Career Development & Alumni Relations Committee’s (CDAR) representative, Ahsaan.
“Good morning, Abdul. How are you?”
“Doing great. How can I help?” said Abdul.
“I was wondering if you could share some of the biggest challenges that you faced as a student entering the field of technical sales.”
“Sure. Actually, I had no experience in sales when I came in, but I did have a strong motivation to learn. One of the biggest challenges I faced was that the market is very competitive and there are loads of substitutes out there. You have to be compelling in your argument when you are selling your product to your client, which requires strong understanding, expertise in the product portfolio of the company, as well as technical knowledge needed to customize the solution to the customer’s need.”
“Great, thank you. What exactly do you do on a regular basis?”
“Some of my typical responsibilities include presenting AT&T products to the executives and IT directors of client organizations. So it’s crucial to have answers to their possible queries and be able to translate the product’s offering to their solutions. You need to have adequate technical knowledge of the product to be able to diversify its applicability.”
“I see you have a couple of certifications. Would you mind explaining how they apply to your career?”
“I did my VMWare certification while at the BSLDP, which is a sales training program designed around virtualization basics and VMWare solutions. Certifications such as these not only help expose you to practical knowledge but also add value to your resume and make you stand out in a pool of candidates. CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE are some certification programs which encompass entry level to advanced level network engineering skills that hold a high standard in the industry for a career in data networks.”
“Thanks for that! I know you took courses like Competitive Strategies and Forecasting at Duke. What skills did you find to be most valuable in your field of work that you picked up in those classes?”
“They all added value in the developmental analytical skills essential in every line of work. CompStrat helped me in building an insight of policy and strategy evaluation and gave me a high level of perspective of the company’s long-term objective. Data Mining was another course that greatly enhanced my analytical ability, but it was really the communications skills, robust negotiation, and persuasive skills that I learned while being part of multiple MEM student bodies and clubs. These skills are essential for a career in sales or jobs that involves client interaction.”
“I’m curious, what are your long-term career plans?”
“I’m currently focused on expanding my skill set, learning assorted sales practices, developing client relations, and getting promoted to the role of Senior Data Network Consultant. There are multiple roles in AT&T as it offers products and services in VoIP and VPN. That opens up a whole new dimension of clients. While these things are important, I’m also enjoying my current role.”
“Thank you, Abdul! It was a pleasure talking to you. I’m sure your insights into technology consulting will be very useful for MEM students.”
“Thank you for interviewing me. Let me know if you have any further questions!”
On Tuesday, 4/1/14, the Duke University MEM and MEng programs were represented by Jenny Johnson (career advisor), Ross Wade (career advisor), Bridget Fletcher (student life advisor), and Carrie Hawes (Duke MEMP career staff alum) at the American College Personnel Association’s (ACPA) national conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. The ACPA conference is a four day event, with over 3000 attendees from all over the world representing the student development/higher education industry.
The MEng/MEM team facilitated a workshop called “International Students and Career Services: A Global Partnership” focused on discussing and examining best practices for assisting international students with career development. The workshop was selected and sponsored by ACPA’s Commission for Career Services and Commission of Global Dimensions for Student Development.
In addition to this presentation, Jenny Johnson won the Career Commission’s “Rising Star” award – CONGRATS JENNY!
By: Bridget Fletcher, Assistant Director of Student Services
As a part of our on-boarding process for the entering class of 2013-2014, we held a series of events in China and India. Dr. Murray and I met with students in Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Bangalore. These visits gave us an opportunity to do a couple of things to help students prepare for their trip to Duke. First, we were able to meet one-on-one with students to help them with class selections, general questions about the program, and to (hopefully) ease some concerns about life in the US. Next we were able to introduce the incoming students to some alumni and current students of the program, not to mention a chance to meet each other! Finally, we were able to gather all the students in each city together for a shared meal and a presentation to formally welcome them to the program.
We also held a series of alumni events in each city that led to some great opportunities to catch up with alumni in China and India. Our students go on to do some amazing things! From the trading floor in Shanghai to the essential oils business in India, we learned about the many ways our alumni are putting what they learned at Duke to good use in the world.
Some of our alumni, current students, and even future students also spent some time with us exploring each city. This was a great way for us to really experience the places many of our students come from. I learned so much about each place from our many talented tour guides! For example, I learned that in Shanghai, shopping in your pajamas is a tradition and rain in Bangalore can stop traffic for hours at a time. Some of the greatest foods, sights, and experiences of my life happened on this trip and it was a pleasure to share them with such wonderful people!
In each city we visited I saw some great things happen – roommates were chosen, course work was discussed, friends were reunited and new friends were made. It can be intimidating to plan a move halfway around the world to a country you might have never visited before. We hope these sessions with a few of our staffers, alums, and current students, made that journey a little easier.
By: Tom Mercer – MEM, ’11
Dear MEM & MEng Students –
I am going to try to teach you how I’ve lost more than $20,000 because I had a certain belief, and how, after I learned about one little secret, I earned more than $10,000 in ninety minutes.
If you’re lucky, you already have a job or internship lined up for the summer. If you don’t have a job yet, what I’m going to teach you is even more urgent. If you have a job, you’re probably going to change jobs within a couple years, so it’s important to internalize this belief before then.
Two months ago, I was standing on the edge of an arch in Arches National Park, looking out over an awesome view while standing inches from a 500-ft cliff. I was talking with my friend about his future job at the most progressive law firm in our home state. The partners of the firm have argued and won several of the major cases the state’s Supreme Court has heard in the last 20 years. Our conversation turned to our student debt (law students have LOTS more) and our starting salaries and benefits.
I found that I was going to earn substantially more as an entry-level analyst than he would as a fully-credentialed lawyer at the most prestigious firm in the state, so I asked him about how he negotiated the compensation.
His response shocked me. “I didn’t want to ask for more money, because these are the people I’m going to be working with, and I don’t want them to think I’m selfish.”
My friend and I both have excellent degrees (and you do too, or you will soon). What caused this massive difference in starting compensation (>$20,000)? A single belief and less than ninety minutes of effort.
The last time you got an offer, how did it make you feel?
Were you excited?
“Yes, that’s great, when can I start!?”
“Is that all?”
Or did you feel something else?
I’ve felt these emotions when I received offers in the past, and I just accepted the offers because “I just need a job” or “This pays more than my last job”.
But the last 3 offers I’ve received, I’ve done something different, and I want to explain it in detail because, with respect to money, this is the highest-impact activity you will ever do.
What’s the most you’ve earned per hour? I’ve earned >$21,000 in three long days, and >$2,000 in 2 minutes and 14 seconds. None of these compares to the $20,000+ I’ve earned by negotiating for a few minutes.
OK, that’s great, you say. How do I earn this $?
First, there is a mindset. You invested the time and money to earn a graduate degree from Duke. Based on that, I can say you are among the top 10% most valuable potential employees to any firm.
You are a top performer.
Top performers contribute disproportionately to teams. Google and other companies spend billions of dollars every year attracting and retaining top talent, because, while a top performer may cost twice as much, they often contribute more than 10 times more value!
Now, if you approach salary negotiation from this mindset, there are some behaviors you’ll naturally do differently.
I’m going to explain them in painstaking detail. I promise that if you take that first brave step toward ACTION, when you invest an hour in this research and send the email or make the phone call, you will 1. see that it works, 2. start to believe it, and 3. get better at it, until you’ll internalize the core belief, and then you won’t need these scripts.
Top performers do all of this naturally.
When you get an offer, DO NOT STATE A NUMBER FIRST.
When you get an offer, DO NOT STATE A NUMBER FIRST.
After the other side makes an offer with a number, do not say, “YES! When can I start?” nor, “Is that all?”
Both of these responses indicate you are not a top performer, and that you are not professional.
Instead, say, “Hm. That’s interesting. I’m sure we can work out a fair compensation package that’s agreeable to both of us.”
[Attitude: We’re in this together. We’re going to find a FAIR compensation, TOGETHER. You, the company, will get a top performer who delivers disproportionate value. I, the worker, will get extra compensation.]
Understand that the first offer you receive is for suckers. It’s like the sticker price on a car or a retail price for a contraption in SkyMall magazine. Only this is far more serious. The first offer is the ‘sucker’s price’ on 3,000+ hours of your life, every year, until you retire or die.
Unexceptional performers accept the first offer. Just by asking, you set yourself apart.
Company #1: I was offered <$38,000 to work at Contactology in Durham. Just by asking, I got $40,000 (and I knew very little of what I’m about to share, and had not yet internalized the ‘Top Performer’ attitude). That’s $2,000 for writing a two-sentence email.
Now, $40k is not much compared to my student loans, and you’re probably not impressed. But many MEMers haven’t even asked. They are giving up $2,000 to avoid asking.
I’m going to share 2 more case studies where I had the Top Performer attitude, where I see myself as a Top Performer who contributes disproportionately high value. Once I combined the courage to ask with this Top Performer mindset and the “we’re in this together. Let’s work out a FAIR package” attitude, I began to see much better results.
Company #2 Initial Offer: $58,000 + stock options on a 1yr-4yr vesting schedule
Company #3 Initial Offer: $63,000
This time, I was prepared. To both offers, I did not state a number first. DO NOT STATE A NUMBER FIRST. (It’s ok to explain your past compensation, but it’s also ok not to. The employer is only going to use any numbers you provide them as a way to offer you less.) *The career advisors may not agree with me about this. My super-successful career aunts and uncles, and my parents disagreed with me on this one.*
But let me repeat, DO NOT STATE A NUMBER FIRST.
Once they made these initial offers, I did my research.
(Let’s say $Company is offering you $Role in $City.)
$Role at $Company on glassdoor.com
NACE for $Role in $City
When you’re finished with this research, summarize it neatly:
According to glassdoor.com, $Role_s at your company earn between $X and $Y.
The NACE compensation calculator, which is more accurate for well-educated by under-experienced candidates like me, suggests the $City market will offer approximately $68,400 for $Role with my education.
Take that summary and explain it over the phone or email it to the person negotiating salary with you – often this is a hiring manager, or a person from HR, and not the person you interviewed with or will be working with.
If the offer is low (and it usually is), say “according to my research, $Your_Offer is low for $Role in $City”.
If the offer is good or even better than your wildest dreams, say “$Your_Offer is less than what I had in mind. Is there any flexibility with that number?”
At this point, Company #1, #2 and #3, said they would seek “approval” from a manager or VP or CEO, then would come back with ~10% more. Company #2 also offered a “Senior” title at this point.
Maybe the person negotiating with you won’t offer more salary at this point, and they’ll say something like, “the economy is tough” or “Our budget is tight” or “My manager/VP/CEO wouldn’t approve that”.
Agree with them. Sympathize. Successful negotiation is not confrontational. Say something like “yes, the economy is tough” or “I understand you have budget constraints” or “I understand your manager/VP/CEO wouldn’t approve it”
Then do 3 things.
1. Remind them about another high-value skill you have, how valuable it will be for them, for their company. 
Ask gently again if there is any flexibility with their number.
2. When you are satisfied that they won’t offer more base compensation to hire you…
(There is a fine line here, and it goes back to what my friend was feeling when we were discussing salary negotiation on top of the arch. At this point in the negotiation, you don’t want to be selfish to the point of sabotaging the work relationship over a small amount of money. You’ll know when to stop.)
…ask for this in writing: you’ll have a performance review on a shorter term (6 months), and set expectations that if you can deliver X value, then by 6 months from now, the company will offer you Y compensation.
This creates the impression that you’re going to work hard, and be worth many times what they pay you.
And you will work hard, and you will always create/give more value than you are given.
3. Suggest that “maybe there are other options to make the total package more attractive.”
Then, ask for:
In-the-money stock options
Other fringe benefits
Now, the person negotiating with you is ON YOUR SIDE, you’re WORKING TOGETHER to put together a FAIR total compensation package. Good things will happen.
Company #2 offered 10% ($5,800) more and a senior role.
Company #3 offered 10% (6,390) more, and more bonus.
I think I did OK, but I didn’t ask for stock options. I still made 10% extra salary in less than 90 minutes of effort.
More powerful effects resulted from this negotiation than just a one-time $6,000 raise, however.
I’m going to earn 10% more.
My bonus is 10% larger.
My 401k match is 10% larger.
I’m going to earn even more than 10% more over my career, because each future raise and inflation-adjustment will stack on top of this larger compensation. A quick calculation (http://www.calcxml.com/do/ins07) suggests I will earn $614,783 more over my career. I believe the effect will be much larger.
My employer’s initial impression is that I’m a top performer, and that I believe hard work and positive results are rewarded with higher compensation. <— THIS PAYS AND PAYS.
Please negotiate your salary. If you succeed, share your success story in the comments here and on the MEM facebook page. Share this with a friend. If all of us learn to internalize this belief and do this research, we will earn more than $100,000,000  more over our careers. More importantly, we will contribute at least an extra $1,000,000,000 more in value, because we will be healthier, happier, and enjoy greater job satisfaction and engagement over the years.
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY5SeCl_8NE I don’t recommend you buy Ramit’s $2,000+ courses, but I watched this video three times to memorize the scripts and internalize the beliefs and attitudes of a top performer.
By Daniel Egger – MEMP Executive in Residence & Director, Center of Quantitative Modeling
MEM students pursuing finance jobs in the U.S. can greatly improve their outcomes by taking some time to distinguish between the different types of roles that exist under the broad heading of “finance,” and focusing their efforts on those roles where success is most likely for them. Generalizing very broadly, finance industry jobs for University graduates fall into three main categories: Sell-side, Buy-side, and Information Technology Infrastructure. Below, I discuss each Category, and why I think it is, or is not, a realistic target for MEM students’ job search.
Sell-side jobs are those where the ultimate value of an employee to his or her employer is the ability to sell whatever product or service the bank or brokerage firm is currently offering. The key activities in these jobs are, first, developing personal relationships with clients and potential clients, and second, “pitching” these contacts on the sale of whatever the employer will make a profit on each day. For example, your firm may be selling a particular company’s stock or bond, selling a whole Company in a merger, selling a division of a larger company in an acquisition/divestiture, or promoting and selling a new financial product such as a complex derivative. Much of this pitching is done over the phone, so an effortless command of idiomatic English is essential.
Jobs in “investment banking” are essentially all sell-side. Even roles that might appear from their job title to be more analytical and objective, such as “equity analyst,” are actually sell-side jobs. An equity analyst at an investment bank or brokerage firm is creating written materials to give the firm’s sales people relevant ‘talking points’ with potential customers. Very often, the equity analyst will be writing about Companies the firm already represents, or wants to represent, in the sale of stock or bonds. The analyst role exists to support the firm’s sales efforts.
In my opinion, there are two main reasons MEM students do not get hired for sell-side jobs.
First, a skill for sell-side jobs that is most likely to lead to success is found in those who enjoy networking, and find it easy. These individuals are successful at sales because they are naturally suited to the work of building many personal trust relationships rapidly. Again generalizing broadly, Engineers by training and temperament tend to be more introspective, thoughtful, and analytical/judgmental. Engineers tend to focus more on the correct answer than the on making the other person feel right – a quality that may make them excellent engineers, but not obvious salespeople.
Second, the usual “funnel” for sell-side jobs does not provide easy access for MEM students. U.S. students begin preparing themselves to be hired in sell-side finance jobs by the time they are 18 or 19 years old, working in multiple summer internships as undergraduates, majoring in relevant and expected undergraduate subjects such as economics, and networking with classmates and alumni involved in finance. When evaluating resumes, employers put a lot of emphasis on competitiveness and extroverted leadership in non-academic activities, such as competitive athletics and fraternities/sororities. Most starting employees in sell-side roles at top-tier U.S. financial institutions are recruited directly as undergraduates out of a small number of elite, Ivy-League or similar institutions. There is a strongly standardized recruitment “funnel” and alternate paths into it are not welcomed. Recruiters generally resist even considering students who have not pursued the “pre-career” path described above.
There are exceptions, of course, and one or two MEM graduates each year are hired into U.S. sell-side/investment banking jobs – but these are generally students who are (a) strongly extroverted, (b) relentlessly ambitious, and (c) prepared to spend a year or more on their job search beyond MEM graduation.
Buy-side financial institutions are those that manage other people’s money for a fee, and sometimes for a share of any profits. Many jobs in buy-side firms involve careful sifting and evaluation of the “sell-side” pitches making the rounds of Wall Street. Most well-run buy-side firms have their own in-house analysts, and do “due diligence,” or independent assessment, on all investment opportunities, including evaluating the performance of other money managers to whom they may delegate certain investment decisions. The best buy-side firms also pursue original investment strategies that they develop in-house, often through extensive data-analysis and back-testing of investment strategies. Buy-side organizations generally specialize in particular financial asset classes, investment time horizons, and money-making strategies. They have many different organizational structures, including pension funds, equity and bond mutual funds, venture capital funds, hedge funds, and trading operations that trade “for their own account” – meaning they aim to profit directly on trades that risk their own capital, rather than making money on commissions for executing others’ trades.
People with an engineering background are actually well-suited to succeed in many needed roles on the buy-side, and many graduates of Duke’s own Pratt School of Engineering work in, and have great career success in, this area. It is a much better “fit” for most engineers than the sell-side. [My own MEM course titled “Introduction to Computational Finance” focuses on buy-side analytical tasks, as well as the criteria used to evaluate and hire money managers]. However, there are still two big obstacles standing in the way of employment on the buy-side for MEM graduates.
First, much of the work of a money management firm involves raising the money to invest, which includes both direct solicitation of investors, and marketing the firm to intermediaries and other “gatekeepers,” such as wealth advisors. Fundraising never stops, nor does the work of managing ongoing relationships with investor-clients. Therefore, many of the jobs at buy-side institutions are actually sell-side roles. For example, someone running a money management firm will spend 80%+ of their time raising money, travelling constantly for face-to-face meetings with investors, potential investors, and clients around the country and around the world, “pitching” themselves and their firm as a superior place to invest, and to keep, one’s money. Thus money management is fundamentally a relationship-driven, selling-oriented business, the same as investment-banking, except the product being sold is oneself: one’s credibility, skill, and track record. As explained above, by temperament, sales jobs rarely play to the natural strengths of MEM students.
My advice is that MEM students should determine at the outset whether an employment opportunity at a buy-side organization is in an inward-facing, analytical role – for example, performing due diligence on new investments, portfolio allocation and rebalancing, risk-management, or hedging – or is more an outward facing sell-side role – such as investor relations, financial reporting, or a trading role where one is expected to raise one’s own money to invest.
Second, just as with the recruitment “funnel” for sell-side institutions, buy-side institutions that are large enough to do on-campus recruiting have fixed procedures for who they will and will not interview and evaluate, and their focus is on the same pool of Ivy-League undergraduates, using the same criteria, as the sell-side firms. It is difficult for MEM students to get beyond the stage of sending in their resumes to an HR contact, or at most getting a brief phone interview.
However, engineering graduates with an MEM degree who do manage to get face-to-face interviews with practitioners of buy-side roles at buy-side firms tend to do well. This eventual success may be exactly because they are engineers – their thoughtfulness, work ethic, analytical and quantitative approach to problem solving, and evident mathematical and data-analysis skills make them in many ways better at buy-side jobs than candidates from the standard “funnel” or interviewing pool. Therefore, it is essential for MEM students who are determined to get hired in a buy-side job to get to know personally people working in the industry outside of the standard HR/interviewing process. The way that you will be hired is ultimately through mentorship by a successful individual at one of those firms; someone senior enough to have hiring authority and with whom you have developed a personal relationship. Pursuing a buy-side job with a U.S. firm is not easy for MEM graduates, and it is not recommended – but it is not impossible.
Note that the rigid interviewing “funnel” in the U.S for both sell-side and buy-side financial jobs is not at all similar to how MEM students may be hired for comparable jobs in their “home” countries – and in particular in rapidly emerging economic powers such as Brazil, India, and China. The process in many countries is much more fluid and less institutionalized – and there is much more rapid growth, which creates constant demand for new entry-level people. By U.S. standards these countries’ financial career paths are the “Wild West” – full of adventure, boundless opportunity, and risk. A determined individual with an MEM degree can begin a successful career in any area of finance in their home country more easily that they can in the U.S. Instead of being seen as someone with a “non-standard” degree for a finance career, that needs to be explained, you will be seen — more accurately — as someone who has technical training in your own country, combined with excellent English-language skills, exposure to U.S. culture and business practices, and the ambition and energy to obtain a business degree from a top U.S. institution.
3. Information Technology (IT) Infrastructure
Many MEM students have several years experience working as software developers or business analysts working on IT projects, and/or have a degree in Computer Science or Electrical Engineering and have also learned to program and/or to work with databases. These students may have come to the MEM program in part to “escape” from being in a purely technical “coding” role, and so may be initially hesitant to consider jobs in Financial IT Infrastructure. However, five (5) points are worth considering:
First, most IT Infrastructure jobs for MEM graduates lead rapidly to promotion to team-leader and project manager positions. Financial firms are not hiring you to write code for more than a year or so – they need people who can understand both coding and the larger business aims of the organization, and have the “people-skills” to lead and manage team efforts that will involve dozens, or hundreds, of contributors located all over the world.
Second, the financial sector spends more money on IT products and services, both internally and externally, than any other industry. In every aspect of finance, from customer relationships and on-line marketing, to credit cards, to transaction processing and brokerage, to development of trading and trading floor technology, to data security, data-analysis and Big Data storage and processing, financial firms are making massive capital investments in order to remain competitive. Large budgets and competitive pressures create great career opportunities for those who have (or who can acquire quickly) the relevant skills to execute on big plans.
Third, it is a myth that over the long term, people in outward-facing roles at banks and other financial institutions will be paid more than IT infrastructure people in those same organizations. Senior managers – those who assume significant responsibility for large teams – are paid extremely well, because the special combination of skills needed – technical and management ability, combined with specialized vertical-market experience and expertise – is always in short supply. MEM students who go into IT Infrastructure for finance can and should aspire to be Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at a financial institution some day. The relative importance of the CTO, relative to other C-level positions, at banks and other financial institutions is continually rising. Over the long term, (the next ten to twenty years) sell-side and buy-side jobs will largely be phased out and replaced by intelligent computer systems. (See below, A Special Note on Algorithmic Execution and Trading).
Fourth, it is admittedly my personal opinion only, but in the long-term, a career designing and building useful things is much more satisfying work for engineers than a career buying and selling things designed and built by others – and this holds just as true in the financial sector as in other industries. And job satisfaction is not irrelevant to pragmatic career planning – because people tend to be more motivated, thrive more, and rise faster, when doing work they fundamentally enjoy.
Fifth, MEM students who also have basic software and/or database competencies are hired in large numbers every year by top U.S. financial firms. The same firms that won’t interview MEM students who don’t fit in their “funnel” for sell-side and buy-side jobs use completely different people to recruit and interview for their Information Technology jobs – and those people have completely different criteria for evaluating and hiring students. For example, recruiters for IT jobs are much more likely to understand what it says about you that your graduated from Tsinghua or Peking University, or from an Indian IIT. And from the perspective of these interviewers, the MEM degree gives those who also have a relevant technical background a significant competitive edge in hiring over people who have only the technical background.
Therefore, my advice is to build on your technical background in seeking to work in the financial industry. Compete for those jobs where your unusual combination of skills is competitive differentiation and a big advantage, rather than something unusual that needs to be explained.
A common question I hear from MEM students is: “What if I have only limited software and coding experience? What do I need to know to be competitive for financial IT jobs? My Computer Science or Electrical Engineering, or similar degree does not necessarily mean I have much practical software development experience.”
My answer is that technology, including favored computer languages and tools used to build infrastructure, are changing so fast that the most important skill you can have is the ability and willingness to learn and apply new skills on your own rapidly and with confidence. If you have never used C++, or Java, or R, or Perl, Python, or PHP, or worked with MySQL or other databases, or used tools like Hadoop – all of these things can be learned on your own using free online tutorials, posting on message boards to ask questions when you get stuck, etc. It is just a question of committing the time and energy to practicing. It is certainly easier than learning to work and write in English, if English is not your first language. But if you have not learned these skills yet, and the prospect of learning them is not appealing to you – then I would recommend you pursue a different career path. Over your career, specific computer languages and tools will become obsolete and be replaced – the only constant will be the need to master new knowledge.
A Special Note on Algorithmic Execution and Trading
Buying and selling financial assets such as stocks, bonds, and commodities, was once done by brokers gathered together on a physical trading floor. Computer networks made this structure obsolete, and now brokers around the world submit buy and sell orders to multiple exchanges electronically. However, a further level of automation is underway – where the trades themselves are executed algorithmically. Algorithmic execution is superior at balancing market risk and execution risk, and perhaps even more importantly, at obscuring the nature of the trade so that other market participants can’t exploit it. For example, if a mutual fund wants to sell a large block, such as 10 million shares, of a stock that has a normal daily volume of only a few million shares, offering the entire block at once will result in a very poor average price per share. Even just informing the market that the fund wants to sell that many shares over several days will lead to a much worse average price than if the intention of the seller can be kept secret. Computer algorithms break up the 10 million shares into random-seeming sized small lots, scatter their sale over a number of days and exchanges, and perhaps even include a number of buy orders to throw others off the track. Clients of algorithmic execution evaluate the performance of an algorithm by comparing the average price they got for the ten million shares to the last-traded price of the stock before they began selling. Obviously, if the process of selling the full 10 million shares takes too much time, the market price of the stock may in the mean time move down for reasons unrelated to the trade. This is “market risk.” If the selling process is too rapid, selling pressure will drive down the price even if other market participants do not know that the seller wants to sell 10 million shares. This is “execution risk.” Balancing these risks in a classic engineering optimization problem.
A further step in trading automation is when computers are programmed to identify opportunities to exploit small mispricings or arbitrage opportunities through very rapid placement of trades – much too fast for human intervention. The computer is authorized to place orders to buy and sell on its own volition. A very large part of all trading is now driven by one form or another of algorithmic-trading algorithm. One of the key features of successful algorithmic systems is very low latency for decision-making – the computer must be able to receive new data, analyze it, and place and cancel orders in a few thousandths of a second. [An MEM student team that I coach participates every year in a leading algorithmic trading competition, part of the Rotman International Trading Competition held in Toronto Canada annually]. Algorithmic execution and trading is of course just one aspect of financial industry Information Technology Infrastructure, but it is an area where an informed engineering perspective on software and hardware design, combined with basic knowledge of trading and markets, which can be obtained at the Duke MEM program, opens up career opportunities that in the long term will make many of the non-technical “sell-side” and “buy-side” jobs obsolete. The future of finance is with the technologists.
By Aditya Prathipati, MEMP, ’14
During Diwali 2006, a young electronics engineer working for Texas Instruments in Bangalore, India, wanted to take a bus and go home to be with his family. Destiny did not let him go home. Instead it provoked him to create a business that let millions of Indians book ‘bus tickets’ online. Phanindra Sama created Redbus which is now one of the most successful ventures in India. Redbus was nominated one of the 50 most innovative companies in the world and was recently acquired by Naspers.
I recently had the privilege of conversing with Phani and it was definitely an enlightening experience. The following is a summary of the Q & A we had.
Q. If you had to ‘start-up’ again with a similar idea (like Redbus), would you be doing anything differently? What was a special learning you had during the growth of Redbus?
Phani had a couple of interesting things to share here. He stressed the importance of front end hiring. Generally, when it is a new business, people get so caught up and busy that they tend to give hiring less priority. But a good keen eye for the right people always pays off. It would also get you the A-team senior management in place faster and effectively.
Another lesson during the process of entrepreneurship has been about leadership. You can find a number of videos with Phani giving some insightful tips on leadership. One of the key things to note about leadership is knowing when to put your foot down and knowing when to be open to ideas. Good leaders strike a balance between kind heartedness and decisiveness.
Q. Being an electronics engineer, were you able to apply any of your skills from electronics in your company?
While Phani might not have been able to put exact electronics engineering material to work in Redbus, he definitely could identify some key transferable skills. Certain attributes like problem solving, getting to the depths of subjects to clearly understand the world around you, realizing the importance of sophisticated technology and simple concepts help you greatly in a business. Moreover, an aptitude for such learning would give you more confidence in yourself.
Q. I hear that you are thinking of turning into an investor. If you were investing in a new venture, what would you be looking for?
People. The team that initiates and executes the venture is the crux and soul of the start-up. Though a certain amount of diversity in the team is good for everyone, a team without the right chemistry will not be able to pivot success. Phani also reflected that this was one of the main reasons why they were not only able to survive but also be in a competitive position.
Q. A personal question. You have a reputation of being very humble and simple. How do you stay so grounded? What is your approach towards people?
To this question Phani laughed and said “I actually don’t know. I was told that I am humble and I even asked my wife about it. I guess I just am the way I am.”
In one of his interviews, Phani had mentioned why he leads a simple life. He says that if you lead a simple and natural life, irrespective of the turns your life takes, you will sustain yourself and not find it traumatic. “You should let life be unfair to you sometimes”
What a novel, profound thought!
Yitao Zhang (MEMP ‘ 12), Design Engineer for Viridi E-Mobility, Shares His Experience in the Automobile Industry
By Zihe Meng
Copy edited by Margaret Kuleshova
Yitao did his undergraduate study at the University of Toronto, Canada, where he majored in mechanical engineering. After his bachelor’s degree, he strongly felt in need of interdisciplinary study of business and technology. The Master of Engineering Management Program at Duke became his first choice. He now works as a design engineer at Viridi E-Mobility Technology, a newly formed joint venture of Volvo and Geely dedicated to designing power train systems for hybrid vehicles.
“Hi, Yitao, this is Zihe. Thank you for taking the interview. Is now a good time to talk?”
“Sure, whenever you’re ready.”
“Great! I appreciate it. I know you attended your company’s annual party last night. How was it?”
“I had a lot of fun, thanks for asking.”
“I’m glad you enjoy your time at Viridi. Could you describe a typical day at your job as a design engineer?”
“Of course. The major part of my daily work concentrates on thermal management design of battery packs utilized by hybrid vehicles. To build a new-energy car, one of the most challenging tasks is battery design. One battery pack consists of thousands of small modules and parts, and it is extremely temperature-sensitive so we have to precisely control temperature, especially during charge and discharge. I run a lot of simulations of thermal and fluid dynamics using Cartia and FluEFD, trying to achieve efficient design. Our pilot production line will be tested in three months, so I also work with the production department using AutoCAD for layout planning.”
“Sounds intense. What skills do you think are the most valuable for this type of job?”
“There is no single skill that really dominates. First you have to be capable in terms of technical knowledge. In my job, for example, proficiency in mechanical engineering and related software is very important. But I also have to collaborate with electrical engineers and talk to suppliers. Soft skills such as communication and multi-tasking truly matter. They help you see things in multiple dimensions.”
“I believe many MEM students could relate to that. Are there any courses or electives that you found helpful for your role now? Would you like to give some advice to current students?”
“During my experience at Duke, core courses of MEM such as Marketing and Finance definitely helped me develop more business insight. With electives like Project Management I got the chance to present my work and my communication skills improved a lot. I took one elective from Economics called Intermediate Finance. It opened a door to the outside of technology and I learned about the financial market. It helped me understand my job in a different perspective such as the economic consequences of my work. My suggestion would be to explore new fields and broaden your horizon. Students can sit in classes outside of the MEM program. It really helps you see the bigger picture, especially when it comes to management.”
“That’s a good point. What about those challenges? How did you actually deal with them?”
“One of my biggest challenges was lack of experience. I came straight out of school and it could be overwhelming sometimes with so many things to learn and so many experienced people with which to work. When designing a vehicle, every little part ties together and it gives a lot of pressure. I’m glad that my company holds weekly training for us. In the one-hour session, colleagues will give presentations of their previous work, update current tasks and more importantly share their experiences. It is a good way to know others more, and to gain a clearer idea of what and how other departments are working. A new technology in one realm could be the inspiration for another. That’s what I love about it.”
“It’s very thoughtful for a company to do that. Some current students are struggling with which industry to step into. What brought you to the automobile industry in the first place?”
“To be honest, I also struggled with it once. I have tried investment banking and passed CFA Level I. I think it’s not hard to get into an industry, but it is hard to find out whether it fits. I did a one-year internship with Automation Tooling Systems, Inc. in Canada where I learned about cycle times, GD&T, and JIT production and got exposed to supply chain management. I found the year extremely helpful in identifying my passion. So I would encourage you to try whatever you find interesting, even if it turns out not so satisfying. It could still serve as your next inspiration.”
“That’s very impressive. How do you think such an interest would guide your career path in the near future?”
“I do love what I am doing now, building a new-energy car for the next generation. I’m a hands-on person. In the future, I would like to get closer to the production line as a calibration engineer or process engineer. It’s not going to be easy as front engineers require years of experience and deep insight in the industry.”
“Wonderful, and I wish you all the best. It was great talking to you, thanks again for your valuable input. I’m sure it will help a lot of students.”
“No problem. Glad I could help. Don’t hesitate to contact me again if you have further questions.”
“I really appreciate it. Thank you and have a great day!”